PESCADO PARA VENDER
fish for sale
The hand painted sign read.
We pulled into the driveway of a Costa Rican home, one of the many shanty-like houses that occupied the sleepy town in Uvita, Costa Rica.
A middle aged man with a bright smile greeted as at the door and beckoned us to come into his garage, filled with coolers, nets, and other tools to prepare and weigh fish. A classic fisherman.
We discussed the weather for a little while and how the fishing was today before we dug into the meat of why we had come:
“¿Que quiere usted?”
What would you like?
He asked us as he opened up his freezer filled with a wide variety of frozen fish. Tuna, mackerel, red snapper. Local seafood paradise. But underneath a stack of mackerel, I could see a very distinct fin sticking out.
“¿Que es eso?” I asked, reaching down into the freezer to pull it out.
What is this?
Bolillo, amongst many other nicknames, is a street term for sharks or shark meat.
Using such nicknames for shark meat allows fish vendors to sell any kind of shark meat under the same name within the fish market.
And while selling and consuming shark meat isn’t illegal in Costa Rica, using street names like bolillo can prevent otherwise conscious consumers from knowing whether or not they are eating Blacktip shark – which are currently an unthreatened species – or Hammerhead shark, which are all currently endangered.
“¿PORQUE VENDE TIBURONES?”
“Why sell shark?”
I asked the fisherman, who was kind, and let me take pictures of the juvenile Blacktip shark in his freezer.
He explained to me that around the coastline, Costa Rica has a thriving ceviche trade. Now, I don’t know if any of you have ever eaten ceviche, but with some chips and some hot sauce, ceviche is definitely one hell of a meal.
Ceviche is traditionally made with meat from white marlin, and is chopped into a fine hash and then soaked in lemon and vinegar.
“Pero marlin blanco es muy caro aqui, peudo pescar durante todo el dia y no voy a tener un marlin blanco.”
“But white marlin is really expensive, I can fish all day long and I’m not going to have a White Marlin.”
“Y el sabor de bolillo es casi el mismo que marlin blanco.”
“And the flavor of bolillo is almost the same as white marlin.”
He explained to me how marlin used to be much easier to catch, but these days it’s a lot harder to find.
“Soy un pescador artesano.”
“I am a artisan fisher.”
He is legally licensed by the country of Costa Rica to fish shark.
He continued to explain to me that fishing is his lively hood, his income, what kept his family fed and happy.
It would be economically unsustainable for him to spend all day fishing, and maybe not even catch a marlin, when he can just as easily go to an estuary and catch a bunch of sharks to sell for ceviche.
When I asked him what kind of sharks he was allowed to fish, he responded “todo”, “all of them,” and opened up a freezer that was full of young frozen sharks.
Although he didn’t let me take a picture of the freezer, he was kind enough to let me take a picture of one of the many juvenile Hammerhead sharks that was inside.
The practice of fishing hammerhead sharks is legal in Costa Rica, as long as you have a proper license and the sharks aren’t being finned for shark fin soup.
Because he was fishing to sell for food, there wasn’t an issue legally with his fishing, or the selling of the sharking meat to ceviche vendors.
It’s actually in his economic benefit.
That’s the problem.
How could this happen?
It’s easy to look at the problem, but sometimes the problem can be so overwhelming, we forget to look at the source.
Who did this?
How can we be running out of sharks?
Well the issue isn’t the shark fishing, it’s all the other fish we are fishing for.
Have you ever heard of Long Lining? Shrimp Trolling? They are the two main methods major fishing companies use to rake in massive amounts of fish like tuna, marlin, swordfish, and obviously shrimp; but it also creates massive problems.
More than half of what is caught on long lines isn’t actually the fish they want, and is known as bycatch. Sometimes ratios of 20:1 (bycatch:catch) have been reported. Lord only knows the statistics that haven’t been reported.
Researchers believe that long line fishing has caused a 60% decrease in shark species in Costa Rica alone.
The fact that marlin – a fish that they are actually fishing for – is hard for this local fisherman to find, doesn’t seem so surprising.
With major companies, corporations, and governments fishing our seas to extinction, it makes sense that local fishermen are forced to sell whatever they can to make ends meet.
In the end, it’s the small families and the environment that suffer.
How can we stop it?
Everything we do effects how these multimillion dollar corporations function because they live for the consumer.
Not supporting major fishing companies like Starkist, purchasing fish from local fish markets, or maybe even eliminating fish from your everyday diet creates a ripple effect.
Your dollar is your vote.
It’s hard to inspire multimillion dollar companies to change their ways, if we continue to buy their product.
If you want to change the way things are, you must refuse to be a part of it.
Know what you eat
Spread the word
If there is a demand, they will continue to fish to support the supply.
Interested in doing your part to create the change you want to see in the world?
There are some amazing organizations that are working hand in hand with governments and international organizations like IUCN and CITES.